art museums should sell more of their collections

Michael O’Hare of UC Berkeley talks about policy reform in art museums in this Econtalk podcast. He made two points that I like a lot:

  1. Art museums hold tons of materials that are never shown, looked at, or studied. Why not sell the bottom 1 or 2% of holdings to make attendance free?
  2. Museum ticket prices should be zero. Why? Marginal cost is equal to zero. In most museums, the galleries are empty most of the time and most studies show that raising prices decreases attendance. In most cases, viewing art does not exclude others.

Listen to the whole talk here.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 26, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in art, fabio, policy

4 Responses

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  1. One reason they don’t sell these materials might be that art is in a constant state of breakdown and museums are involved in their preservation as much as their display and their study. Art museums are, in part, complex organizations for the extension of the life of artworks. There may be pieces of art that museums are less committed to in terms of preservation and extension. But I imagine that once they enter into the museum system they become subject to a set of criteria for their extension in time that private collections are unable to meet.


    Kelly Nielsen

    June 26, 2015 at 12:46 am

  2. Interesting thoughts. Difficult situation for sure. I do like the idea of exposing more people to fine art!


    Arts and Entertainment

    June 26, 2015 at 1:34 am

  3. Oddly, O’Hare doesn’t address the conservation aspect of museums. But I could imagine him pointing out that many art works deteriorate in the basement. could we not let the bottom 1% go into the world if it will help preserve the rest?



    June 26, 2015 at 4:07 am

  4. And that, in a way, would be consistent with what museums already do. Showing art works exposes them to light, warmth, and breath, which accelerates their breakdown. A museum focused entirely on preservation would actually put all the art work in very dark, very cold rooms. So by showing some art works and letting them deteriorate at a faster rate, museums are able to preserve a lot more art work than they might if their sole mission was preservation. Fernando Dominguez Rubio at UCSD has been doing some really interesting work on this


    Kelly Nielsen

    June 26, 2015 at 5:16 pm

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